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Education News

Sport On TV: I bet Seaman's never heard that one before. I laughed until I hanged myself

Fictional football on television has always been tackled from behind by drama's eternal problem, suspension of disbelief: it has just never seemed real enough.

The Manageress was so far removed from actuality as to be little more than watchable tosh. Striker, despite being based on Gary Lineker's Spanish sojourn, with input from Mr Nice Guy himself, never convinced (and was most memorable for Warren Clarke's up-and-under manager). Eleven Men Against Eleven was hilarious, and grappled forcefully with the evils of the modern game, but never aspired to be anything other than high farce.

Now there's Sky 1's new soap opera, Dream Team, whose brief is clearly to render as authentically as possible the travails of a modern football club as it follows the decidedly mixed fortunes of perennial relegation candidate, Harchester United. It makes you wonder why no one has ever thought of it before.

In a recent BBC documentary about Chelsea's young aspirants, youth team coach Graham Rix was filmed handing out several severe dressings-down, mostly to do with deficiencies in the housework department. It's all about attitude, application and professionalism - shoddily cleaned boots translate into sloppiness on the pitch.

There's a scene in Dream Team that suggests they've done their homework (or at least watched the BBC film and taken notes). Harchester's Rix character, club stalwart Frank Patcham, is giving the talented but wayward Sean Hocknell a talking-to for leaving a plaster in the shower plughole. The week before he had failed to mark his man at a corner and a goal had been conceded. "It's all about my favourite word, awarenesss," Frank tells him.

Harchester's spiritual home is in the relegation zone, but under their flash-git chairman they are investing in youth, and Dream Team focuses on five of the kids as they dream of glory, glory. A sensible move this, on Sky's part, putting at the heart of the programme a bunch of characters with whom the core audience - football-mad lads - can identify.

In the quest for realism, Ron Atkinson and John Hollins have been drafted in to play themselves (though the idea of the archetypal Chequebook Charlie presiding over a vibrant youth scheme is a little rum, he probably enjoys the irony). And Atkinson, in a phrase he often uses himself, does the business. He handles his team talk well, and he has a great spat with the chairman after they're knocked out of the Coca-Cola Cup by Chelsea. The match footage itself is totally convincing - I'm not sure how Sky have done it, the secret probably being to use real film and eschew close- ups. However good previous efforts have been, on TV or in the cinema, they have always fallen down disastrously when it comes to action on the pitch.

There's an ensemble of characters all deftly portrayed, setting up a slew of dramatic possibilities of future episodes: Dean Hocknell, Sean's brother, who scored on his first-team debut in the Chelsea game; his girlfriend and Frank's daughter Lucy, football reporter for the local radio station; and Georgina, the little rich girl football groupie who has Dean on the boardroom table. It's well paced, too, with lots of short establishing scenes.

For all the attention to detail, there are a few slip-ups. At the beginning, for example, you hear Lucy on air talking about "Premiership strugglers Harchester United" - on local radio she would be much more likely to just say "United". Then when Chelsea go 2-0 up just before half-time, Big Ron immediately sends on young Dean - in reality, he'd probably wait until the interval. And Harchester is supposed to be a Midlands club, but there's not an appropriate accent within earshot. But to counter the few mistakes, there are a few nice touches of realism - Frank Patcham and Big Ron both mouthing "fuck" as Chelsea score; Frank's aforementioned bollocking of Sean Hocknell; and the fact that Harchester lose to Chelsea despite Dean's goal - no Roy of the Rovers stuff there.

I have to confess that the idea of Sky doing a football soap did not have me agog with anticipation. In fact, I was looking forward to donning the metaphorical bovver boots and giving it a right good kicking. Sadly, I was denied. So thank God for Clive Anderson and his new chat show, All Talk (BBC1), the title of which is presumably intended to mean that all the talk comes from the irritating little man himself.

At the age of 19, Anderson's first guest, David Seaman, was playing for his dream team, Leeds United, the club he'd supported since he were a lad. The dream became a nightmare as he became one of football's teenage cast-offs, albeit temporarily. This was one of the few actual facts about the Arsenal and England goalkeeper to come out of his appearance. As is usual with Anderson, it was merely a fusillade of scripted gags.

The balding lawyer seemed particularly preoccupied with the punning possibilities of Seaman's name. Of course; I hadn't realised, the audience hadn't realised, schoolboys the length and breath of the country hadn't realised. The goalkeeper's surname spelt slightly differently means sperm. I bet Seaman's never heard that one before. I laughed until I hanged myself. I think I'll start a Clive Anderson Must Go campaign. I need your support. Now.